New photos reveal massive canyon on Mars, the largest in the solar system, NASA says

Doyle Rice USA TODAY
A close-up view of Mars' Valles Marineris, the largest canyon in the solar system.

Slicing along the Martian equator for about 2,500 miles, the canyon would reach from New York City to San Francisco if placed in the United States, according to NASA. The canyon floor sinks 7 miles into the surrounding plains. That is as deep as some of the deepest parts of Earth's ocean.

It's the largest canyon in the solar system, and new images from the Mars Reconnaissance Orbiter reveal details about its colossal size. 

The photos were taken using the HiRISE (High Resolution Imaging Science Experiment), the most powerful camera ever sent to another planet. It's one of six instruments onboard the Mars Reconnaissance Orbiter, the University of Arizona said. 

Despite some truly breathtaking images of Valles Marineris, scientists still aren't sure how the gargantuan canyon complex formed, according to LiveScience. 

"Unlike Earth's Grand Canyon, Valles Marineris probably wasn't carved out by billions of years of rushing water; the Red Planet is too hot and dry to have ever accommodated a river large enough to slash through the crust like that," LiveScience said.

A large portion of the canyon probably cracked open billions of years ago, the European Space Agency said, when a nearby group of volcanoes known as the Tharsis region was first thrusting out of the Martian soil. 

"As the Tharsis bulge swelled with magma during the planet’s first billion years, the surrounding crust was stretched, ripping apart and eventually collapsing into the gigantic troughs of Valles Marineris," the space agency said.

The Tharsis bulge is home to Olympus Mons, the largest volcano in the solar system, the Science Times reported. 

Further analysis of high-resolution photos like these will help solve the puzzling origin story of the solar system's grandest canyon, according to LiveScience. 

The Tithonium Chasma (part of Mars' Valles Marineris) is slashed with diagonal lines of sediment that could indicate ancient cycles of freezing and melting, according to LiveScience.